"Whatever be his past attitudes, Gen. Musharraf would be keen to improve his image in the US and to remove perceptions of his proximity to the religious extremists, the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Though he accused Mr Sharif of being amenable to US pressure, he may not be as insensitive to US concerns over various issues as one would be led to believe from his past record. India needs to wait and watch the evolving situation, while avoiding any open expression of anti-Musharraf views and concerns. Maintain a rational and healthy watchfulness, but avoid irrational fears and reactions, which could prove self-fulfilling. That should be our policy for the present."
--Extract from my article of 16-10-1999 titled Musharraf: The Morning After
Remember how the people of Pakistan sang and danced in the streets on October
12,1999, when the then Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), Gen. Pervez Musharraf,
took over as the Chief Executive after overthrowing Nawaz Sharif, the elected
They did so not because they liked Musharraf, but because they were fed up with their political class in general and with Benazir Bhutto, Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif in particular. Corruption, misgovernance and arbitrary rule became the leitmotif of 11 years of political rule under Benazir and then Nawaz.
Today, the people of Pakistan are singing and dancing in the streets not because they are elated over the prospect of being ruled by Zardari and Nawaz, but because they are fed up with nine years of military rule under Musharraf. Misgovernance and arbitrary rule were as rampant under Musharraf as they were under Benazir and Nawaz though corruption was not.
To add to Musharraf’s woes, his co-operation with the US in the so-called war against terrorism proved a kiss of death. It was unpopular not only with the religious fundamentalists, but also with large sections of the liberals, who attributed Pakistan’s growing instability to the public anger over his perceived closeness to the US.
Singing and dancing cannot go on for ever. They have to come to an end and the process of facing the ground realities has to start the morning after. What are the ground realities confronting them?
- The economy in serious difficulties with the Exchequer unable to cope with
the rising oil prices and meet the basic needs of the people even in respect
of necessities such as wheat and flour.
- The relentless spread of the virus of Talibanisation across its tribal
belt and the dangers of its infecting the non-tribal areas too.
- A country caught in the fatal embrace of the US. It will be as suicidal to continue to be in its embrace as it will be to get out of it. Continuing the embrace of the US would mean more terrorism of the Al Qaeda kind and more Talibanisation. Freeing itself of its embrace would mean a collapse of its economy and a weakening of the potential of its armed forces.
The realities are grim enough to demand a statesman of clarity and vision at
the helm of affairs. There is none on the horizon. Zardari and Nawaz are not
statesmen. They are no-holds barred politicians.
Till now, they presented a façade of unity lest any discord between them should redound to be benefit of Musharraf. Now that Musharraf is gone, more and more discord and less and less unity will be the order of the day.
Discord is likely on the following issues:
- Who should be the President--from the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) or
the Pakistan Muslim League? From Sindh or Punjab?
- Should the former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, who is
perceived to be closer to Nawaz than to Zardari, be reinstated?
- What changes are necessary in the policy of co-operation with the US in the war against terrorism followed by Musharraf? Nawaz would like a total break with the policy, but Zardari wants only modifications and not a total break.
The political equilibrium in Pakistan could change if the loyalists of
Musharraf in the PML (Qaide Azam) flock back to the PML of Nawaz Sharif.
Zardari’s position could be weakened, making new elections unavoidable.
The Army’s anti-India reflexes were kept under check by Musharraf. It is doubtful whether either Zardari or Nawaz will be able to do so as effectively as Musharraf did. The temptation to profit from the fresh difficulties of India in Jammu &Kashmir will be difficult for the Army and the Inter-services Intelligence to resist.
In Pakistan, the Army has always been in the driving seat of policy- making on Kashmir. Musharraf, in the driving seat of power, brought in a certain measure of moderation after his bitter experience during the Kargil conflict. With a politician in the driving seat, there will be greater uncertainties for India in Kashmir since his control over the Army will be less than that of Musharraf.
India should continue with the peace process with Pakistan. It should build bridges with all sides of the political spectrum there. It should co-operate closely, but discreetly with the US and Afghanistan in monitoring the situation and avoiding nasty surprises. The US still has the capability to exercise moderation on the Pakistani policies through its contacts in the Army. India should encourage the US to keep using that capability in the common interests of India, the US and Afghanistan. Greater vigilance on our border with Pakistan and on the internal security situation is necessary.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.